It Takes a Fleet: Pre-Race Discussions

A few weeks ago, Kim and I finished second at a Snipe regatta that we were winning right up until the last race. Several lessons can be taken from that “failure,” most of which I’ve learned before and some of which I’ve written about already. Today I want to focus on the importance (and pleasure) of pre-race discussions, because the absence of a few particular friends caused me to make a mistake in sail choice that I won’t soon forget.

Both teammate Kim Couranz and inspiration Gonzalo “Old Man” Diaz give great boat-park advice—and they also keep me laughing.

We had a great three-race day on Saturday and went into Sunday as regatta leaders. Looking around the boat park that chilly morning, I didn’t see any teams changing out their mainsails—so I, too, stuck with the same one I’d used the day before, even though the forecast was for more breeze (and my wise teammate nodded when I mused about changing to our flatter sail). Call it laziness or denial; in hindsight I’m sure I would’ve made the change if I’d had my usual pre-race discussion with one of our competitor-friends. Instead, we pushed off the dock with the wrong equipment.

Cooperative Competitiveness

In 2011, I wrote that “Wanting to win should encourage us to help our competitors improve; the better they are, the more they challenge us to sail our best.” (Read A Week of Variety in Books and Boats)  Since then, as a hungry-to-learn Snipe skipper, I’ve roamed the boat park each race morning, asking specific questions about sail and rig tuning choices.

Most folks shrug and tell me they’re going with what they used the day before. A few (and these are the people I really love sailing against and hanging out with) take the time and energy to work through their long list of Snipe speed considerations, digging deep into how they match their adjustments with the day’s expected conditions. Spreader length and angle, rake and rig tension, sail choices; our seemingly casual dialogue is the boat-speed equivalent of that other predictable race-day question, “what are you wearing today?”

These skippers (and yes, they are usually skippers) always have a plan that’s based on many years of Snipe experience, and they are perfectly wiling to share it with me—as well as anyone else who stops to listen. But they don’t get too locked in, either; on the water, they adapt well to any change of conditions.

Back onshore after racing, these same sailors are eager to explain what they learned, and how their results could’ve been improved—even if they won every single race that day. This is not as selfless as it sounds; talking through decisions will help them cement their own knowledge. (And even if the rest of us successfully absorb all their wisdom, tomorrow’s priorities will probably be different.)

Taking our habits for granted

On that particular Sunday morning, after three months of not thinking at all about Snipe sailing, a combination of recovering from an injury (not really avoidable) and missing my usual Saturday afternoon serving of Recoverite (totally avoidable) resulted in more fatigue than usual. (I also blame this for my failure, once again, to Listen to my Teammate.) For a variety of life reasons, my most trusted consultants weren’t sailing the regatta, so a morning boatpark discussion never happened. Choosing the wrong sail certainly wasn’t my only mistake of the weekend, but looking back it’s quite obvious that my usual race-day habits would’ve helped me avoid a key wardrobe malfunction.

It’s fun, too

Win or lose, those pre-race conversations are a huge part of why I enjoy Snipe regattas. There aren’t very many people in the world who care how much rig tension or what spreader length is ideal for any given race, and this shared passion bonds us together like nothing else. So I’m looking forward to our next regatta, hoping that even after a month away from sailing I’ll retain most of what I learned at that last one. And also vowing, once again, to listen well, to both my teammate and our competitor-friends.

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4 Replies to “It Takes a Fleet: Pre-Race Discussions”

  1. Great how you share the learning experience and how to not make the same mistakes. Most will not even admit they made the mistake. Keep up the great blogs, and of course trusting your teammate

  2. Recently, When on a long flight coming home from Europe I was happy to realize that I had 3 issues of Seahorse to catch up with and came across 2 of your articles. The Perry interview and a piece on US Olympic sailing…..such as it is. Both great reads and very enjoyable and now I’ve spent an hour or so on this excellent blog. Complimenti!

    1. Thanks Rand. There’s more to come every Thursday so feel free to subscribe!

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